De-composition in Popular Elizabethan Playtexts: A Revalidation of the Multiple Versions of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet

Abstract

Petersen addresses the ways in which Shakespeare’s early play-texts have been transmitted from the sixteenth century forward. With specific reference to multiple versions of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, she illustrates how the so-called “bad” quartos of those plays show distinct similarities with multiple versions of orally and memorially transmitted folk tales and ballads—in particular, the so-called broadside ballads. Tables and lists of repetitive patterns, formulas, and transpositions throughout the short quarto versions exemplify how the plays may be understood as “de-composing” very similarly to collections of performances from oral tradition.

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